Blagoy Ivanov is undefeated in his twelve pro MMA bouts, and hopes to stay that way when he steps into the cage again Friday night against Lamar Johnson at the main event of Bellator 116 in Temecula, CA.
It’s the semi-finals of Bellator’s Heavyweight Tournament, where a shot at undefeated heavyweight champion Vitaly Minakov awaits the winner. It could be a time to make a little history.
But, as it turns out Ivanov has already earned a spot in martial arts history — in another semi-final, in another sport, in another time.
Ivanov, who represented his native Bulgaria in both international judo and SAMBO competition, enjoyed that great moment back in 2008, at the Combat SAMBO World Championships in St. Petersburg, Russia.
That night, just one month after his 22nd birthday, Ivanov advanced to the event’s semi-finals to face a man who was then seen as the greatest mixed martial artist alive.
That man was PRIDE heavyweight kingpin Fedor Emelianenko, who was then plying his trade with organizations like Affliction MMA following PRIDE’s collapse.
Fedor had already won four Combat SAMBO World titles. The sport was his domain.
Author Matthew Polly, who was in Russia for the event, would describe later in his book Tapped Out:
So great had been Fedor’s dominance of SAMBO… that the Soviet-style opening ceremony was dedicated to awarding him a Russia Sportsman gold medal. So great had been his dominance that the wags at Fightlinker.com compared his continued participation in this event to Barry Bonds at a T-Ball tournament.
There was no reason to believe Ivanov had a chance. In fact, he had already been defeated by Fedor in 2008 in a SAMBO match at the Emperor’s Cup.
But, as Polly recalls:
In the opening moments of the ten-minute contest, it was tight, but halfway through the round, the Bulgarian tossed and pinned Fedor. Despite the best efforts of the hometown ref, Fedor couldn’t make up the point differential. Although we didn’t realize it at the time, it was in retrospect the first signal that the impregnable Fedor had become vulnerable.
Ivanov would later defeat Germany’s Stefan Janos in the finals, to claim the title of 2008 World Combat SAMBO champion.
Jesse Holland of MMA Mania would remark about the recent shifts in power (Brock Lesnar won the UFC Heavyweight title the same weekend):
A former WWE wrestler is the UFC heavyweight champion. Fedor Emelianenko got schooled at the World Combat Sambo Championships.
Well, now that we have two of the seven signs of the Apocalypse out of the way, we should probably go ahead and start sealing our doors and windows with duct tape and plastic wrap.
It’s not 2008, and the martial arts world doesn’t really have any impregnable heroes anymore. But Ivanov remains.
This Friday, it’s another big semi-final match for Blagoy Ivanov, and another chance to make a little history.